Photo: Jen Painter

Every once in a while we get to hear of a talented emerging artist who is not only into bringing forth the music and songs but is infact, more knowingly using the platform to spark inspiration whilst empowering the listening audience in one swoop.

These are just some of the attributable factors that have already begun to endear us here at EQ, when introduced to Portland, Oregon’s James Panther. An all-round musician and creative mind, who practises truth and positivity, self-empowerment and the health and wellness of the human psyche as subjects uppermost within his work.

From a profile worked for a number of years as a live performance act, James is now taking the step in seeing his work portrayed in video format for the first time. We are proud to not only debut James’s first visual work for his track “Desirable” on EQ today, but also to conduct a short interview with the openly motivational musician.

EQ: Hi James, thank you for taking time out with us for a short EQ Q & A session and for giving us the opportunity to air the international premiere of your first music video “Desirable”.

EQ: We’ve seen that you’ve been making records and performing live as an independent un-signed artist for over a decade but it is only now that you have chosen to begin visualizing your work through the medium of video. Why is this?

JAMES PANTHER: When I started writing songs back in high school, that felt like the be-all-end-all of authentic expression, and I never really planned on producing and directing my own videos. After lots of choral, classical, and theatre training, I got really focused on writing about all the things I was feeling that weren’t reflected back to me by anything in pop culture or the theatre world as a gay teenager, and I associated film and theatre with playing roles that weren’t me: facades and masks I was tired of wearing. I have been hell bent for over 10 years on going deeper into myself and finding my authentic voice through evolving my musical style out of my classical training and learning to self-produce. As I’ve CONTINUED to make records though, and the music industry has kept changing, visuals have become more and more important to the way people access new music, and it became clear that to get “Desirable” out into the world, I needed and wanted to embrace that. Things have come full circle in a way with this video because I got to dramatize my own life and my own truth, and flesh out a lot of the themes of “Desirable” to tell part of my story based on the visions I’d get listening back to the song. Also, I’ve been through a lot internally the last few years. When I realized how much healing I had received from my communities and from cultivating my own spirituality, I wanted to openly share what my journey looked like.

EQ: Throughout your previous work and in your new single “Desirable”, your music is very lyrically honest. How important is it to you as an artist that your work tackles sensitive issues and brings them to notice?

JAMES PANTHER: I have been writing for years from a very personal place, and without much agenda. Vulnerability and being in touch with my emotional experience are essential ingredients for me in making good art. Also, radical honesty is a huge motivator, and a key element of my purpose and mission as an artist and a human being. I am obsessed and fascinated with telling the whole truth and it fuels my work, especially if it’s a taboo that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. In that way, I’m definitely not afraid to be the anti-hero. For example, with this video, I feel like most people don’t really talk about those uncomfortable moments where we face ourselves in the mirror and don’t like what we see. Most people put up these facades, pretending to be SECURE so we don’t seem pathetic (or however we feel we will be judged for being human). All the while, SO many people are walking around feeling like they are not enough because of how our self-image and our sexuality are being mass marketed to us. I think deep down even the most perfect looking people feel a ton of pressure and insecurity like the rest of us, and could probably really use this song. Turning “Desirable” into an empowerment anthem to love yourself was a conscious choice I made when the song was almost done, but when I started writing it, I wasn’t trying to tackle a sensitive issue that other people experience. I was just finally venting my own feelings of not being enough, and my frustrations with mainstream gay culture and the body fascism there. It was nice to be honest about my hard feelings, and then find a deeper truth in my spirit about being alive in a body and valuing myself merely because I exist, and invite other people in to that paradigm. Capitalism functions in our self-perception by always making us believe we need to have and be more, and I’m here to smash that concept as best I can.

EQ: “Desirable” is reflective of personal struggles and insecurities about being socially acceptable in the eyes of society. Do you see yourself as being a spokesperson for humanitarian causes as well as a multi-faceted music artist? Are the two activities inextricably linked for you?

JAMES PANTHER: I think every artist is a humanitarian just by being vulnerable and making art and being visible doing so, since we can be so confined by social and cultural norms. I’m really aware of the healing power of art and music—how hearing someone make themselves vulnerable in a song or video in a way that reflects your own experience back to you can open a door to deeper self knowledge and acceptance. I guess I believe that art has an inherently humanitarian function in this way. I do want to see this world change in so many ways, and I feel like I’ve finally figured out to do my part by just trusting my instincts as an artist by showing what I see rather than preaching about it. Making this video was so great because it speaks for itself. I am absolutely an advocate for the LGBT community, for homeless youth, for environmentalism, holistic health and medicine—all kinds of stuff, so I guess I could be a humanitarian spokesperson at some point. I hope that through the internet and at more live shows, my music can give people a way into themselves, and hold space for people to feel and explore their inner realities, because I believe that’s where real power and the capacity to love comes from. More love = a better world in my opinion. I wanted to show unity consciousness in my video: how nature and community that celebrates diversity heals simply and profoundly, and often effortlessly. I wanted to show that getting back to love and nature is my way out of this toxic, private, shaming relationship with myself that’s so influenced by body fascist imagery that commodifies and tries to sell sex and self worth back to me. Like you see with me and my friends in the video, I hang out with people who give each other permission to be their whole, integrated selves. That openness is how I live my life, and how I have to live or I want to kill myself.

EQ: The “Desirable” music video really works in bringing to life the content of the lyrics. How was the whole experience for you, being that this is your first time making a music video?

JAMES PANTHER: It was so cool just getting to be a filmmaker and make all these characters that came out of my psyche come to life. My time spent performing the song in the video was so minimal compared to doing everything it took to make it come together. Translating visuals from my brain felt daunting and incredibly vulnerable, and I am so blessed to have worked with an incredibly kind and talented editor and co-project manager, Mariko Charvat. She was like my fairy godmother of the music video process before I even launched my Kickstarter to fund it last summer, and really helped me ground my vision and break down everything I wanted to do. Shooting was incredibly fun and I worked with amazing artists, so it was very collaborative in spirit. There’s so much I can say about the magic that happened for each scene. It was so organic. Editing, however, was painstaking because I’m incredibly picky and had such a specific vision for the narrative, but I think it all paid off because Mariko and I took the time to make sure we were creatively aligned throughout. At first, I poured over all the footage for days, picking my favorites, but then I had to let go to trust Mariko’s experience and intuitive artistry to assemble and fine tune the entire thing. We went back and forth for over 2 months with her as my sole post-production team. She was incredibly patient and had a lot of amazing tricks up her sleeve, and I think she and I formed the footage into something really magical. I was so insecure about being on camera and terrified that showing myself would make my own shaky self image worse, but the process really healed me because I got to create my own image from all this organic footage. I feel I’ve really grown as an artist in the process. For example, with my friends and I at the campfire and on the grass, it was so natural and effortless compared to what you might think a music video shoot would feel like and I think you can see that clearly in the video. Everyone showed up exactly the way they wanted to (as I requested), dressed themselves without any pressure from me or my team, and all we were doing was hanging out and being in a loving place with each other. Kacper Skowron, who shot that footage, was so beautifully kind and engaging, and everyone seemed really comfortable, even though some people were overcoming their own insecurities to be on camera. Everyone had permission to really be themselves. I finished writing “desirable” almost 3 years ago, and I’ve had to do a lot of inner work and self healing to be able to have the courage to actually make a video of myself and walk my talk. Thanks so much for premiering it!

EQ: Are we likely to see further James Panther visuals in the pipeline?

JAMES PANTHER: Absolutely. I want to make videos for many of the songs I’ve written. I think the next one will be for my song “Flesh and Blood” which is a song about love and intimacy as well as potential darkness and addiction there. I have ideas brewing right now that I’m really excited about. I have a lot to say and express, and a lot of untold stories to tell. I feel I’m here to give deeper subjectivity to myself and facets of the LGBT community and an awareness of queer spirituality that we don’t see much of in mainstream media. For now, pop music and videos are my preferred method of doing that.

EQ: Thanks James for sharing this insight into your work, the song and its message really resonated with us. We think your voicing in these matters are clearly identifiable in raising awareness with real heart and soul behind it and also being a source of inspiration to others in actively and openly embracing being our authentic selves.

Now let’s hand-over to the visual work in question, the “Desirable” video.